"What do you mean, 'you think you love me'?" Seiko asked.
"Did I stutter?" Haruka said. "It means…I think I'm in love with you."
Seiko held the handset to stare at it intently. Was this some kind of joke as well? Haruka was certainly capable of some doozies, but this was just over the top.
Seiko placed the receiver to her ear once more. "suman na, I thought I heard you make a really bad joke just now."
"I know I'm just a joke to you and to everyone," Seiko said, the sobs creeping into her voice. "I know I can't be a girl…at least not the girl you want, sempai, but please stop making fun of me."
Seiko cried silently to herself as she contemplated hanging up. "I have to go to class, sempai. Good bye."
"What is it? I'm going to be late."
"I know I've been mean to you, Seiko-chan," Haruka said. "We all have, in our own way, I guess. There really is no way I can make that up to you. Please, you have to believe me when I tell you, I really feel that I'm in love with you."
"I'm going to class now, sempai," Seiko sobbed. She flipped the handset closed and buried her face in her hands.
Her growling stomach alerted Seiko to the time. She glanced to the clock and realized she had missed class and dinner at the Commons.
"Great," she muttered. "I guess I'll have to eat out tonight. Good thing my financial aid paid up yesterday."
She walked in a mild daze toward the student union building. She ordered her food at the chicken place and sat in the dining area. She ate quietly as she visually explored the space. A sign posted at one door caught her attention. It advertized an anime and manga club in one of the rooms. Glancing at her phone, Seiko realized she had a few minutes before it was about to start.
Why not, she thought to herself. I could use the distraction.
The young man at the front of the room approached Seiko as she entered.
"Hi, I'm Nick, the club president," he said, a smile on his face. "My vice president, Tony, is running around somewhere."
"Seiko," Seiko said, bowing slightly. "Do you mind if I check you guys out?"
"Oh, please," Nick said. "We welcome everyone here."
"Are there any dues or memberships to fill out?"
"We're not that formal," Nick replied. "Just come and hang out, introduce yourself to people and have fun. We are going to get started soon, so have a seat if you want."
"Thank you," Seiko said, smiling. She wandered among the rows of chairs until she spied an empty seat.
"Hello," said the young man sitting next to her. "I'm Robert."
Seiko fixated on his bright red hair and very tall frame. "Uwah! Sorry! My name is Seiko. Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you," Robert said.
"Oi, listen up!" Nick called to the audience. "I just found this on line. Das L33t!"
He grabbed his ankle in one hand, his neck with the other and proceeded to chicken strut across the front of the room. Seiko laughed so hard, she fell out of her chair.
Seiko came back to the dorm the happiest she had been in days. No one in the anime club doubted for a moment she was who she said she was. The group was polite and seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say on various maters. Her reverie was broken by the insistent buzzing of her phone.
Haruka, she scowled and switched the phone off. I won't let him ruin my evening. Not tonight.
She sat at her desk and stared out the window before she switched on her laptop. With Filicia gone, now is a good time to get homework out of the way.
Her e-mail inbox pinged. She clicked it open and found several messages; all from Haruka, all with "I'm Sorry" in the subject line. Seiko felt her eyebrow twitch as she contemplated trashing the lot of them.
"Oh, what the hell," she said aloud and opened the first message.
'Seiko chan. I know there is now way I can ever make up for everything I did and said in high school. Looking back, it was plain stupid and unfair to you. I could fall back on cultural expectations…'
Cultural expectations? Seiko thought. What are they teaching you at the university of yours, sempai?
'…cultural expectations and say it was social pressure, but that would just be cowardly. It was me. I was the one who buckled and set on you as an easy target. You alone had the courage to be yourself and I just didn't know what to do about it. Can you forgive me?'
Seiko sat back in her chair. You've grown up, sempai.
The remaining e-mails contained similar content with variations on the theme. Seiko flexed her fingers and opened her reply box.
'Haruka-sempai. I read your e-mails explaining yourself. While it hurts – a lot – that you teased me and made fun of me – especially in public – I will accept your apology. I was jealous of you, of everyone, especially Risa-sempai. I was jealous of the attention you gave to her, and that it was so different from what you gave to me. I am happy here, I get to be myself, I get to be a girl here and that makes it worth the effort. I have to be certain of myself before I can accept your feelings. On the same note, are you absolutely sure you care for me as you say you do? It's one thing to confess, quite another to carry through.'
Seiko arched her back in a stretch. Her mouse hovered over the send button as she contemplated whether Haruka loved her as a girlfriend or just a good friend.
No going back now, she thought as the mail sent notification popped up.